Tag Archives: Competence

Why the Attitude? The Business Case for Being Nice

I recently received a call from a frustrated CEO who had concerns about his COO. The COO was brash, antagonistic, and exhibiting a pervasively aggressive disposition. The culture was plummeting and his staff was on the verge of a coup. The CEO and I sat down with the COO to salvage and hopefully remedy the situation.

After I heard the COO’s frustrations, many of which had merit, I dug into why he chose the attack mode. He had excuses and the CEO had retorts, but both seemed to be missing the point. So I went to the heart of issue by asking, “And you couldn’t accomplish this by being nice?” Like many leaders, he equated “nice” with being “weak.” Being a staunch fan of the movie Road House, I could not disagree more.

Road House is one of the greatest films of all time. Starring Patrick Swayze, it’s the story of Dalton, a philosopher hired to clean up bars. This Zen Bouncer ends up at the Double Deuce where we needs to get rid of the sketchy clientele, upgrade the staff, and change the mindset of how to operate a saloon. When retraining the bouncers, Dalton bestows his threes rules.

One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary. And three, be nice.

Be nice? How can a bouncer enforce the rules with the lowlifes who reside in the Double Deuce and be nice? It’s actually a pretty easy, effective way to lead.

If somebody gets in your face and calls you a [bad name], I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won’t walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can’t walk him, one of the other [bouncers] will help you, and you’ll both be nice. I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.

Do you notice that Dalton does not instruct his bouncers to let patrons do whatever they want? Nor does he ease up on the high standards he sets for a safe, family-friendly tavern. No, being nice is about the manner in which things are done, not what you are actually trying to accomplish. This isn’t soft; this is supported by science.

A study by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that the most altruistic members of the team gain the highest status, are more frequently preferred as cooperative interaction partners, and receive greater rewards as their virtuous efforts increase.

A Research in Organizational Behavior study concluded that leaders who project warmth are more effective than those leaders who rely on force or competence—“warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas.”

Research in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that when leaders display behaviors related to self-sacrificing, their employees feel more engaged, committed, and are more likely to go out of their way to support other members of the team.

comprehensive healthcare study found that a culture of kindness not only improves employee productivity but also improves client health outcomes and satisfaction.

All together, the research is clear that a leadership model of trust, warmth, and mutual cooperation can serve as a powerful basis for a company’s culture. Just be nice. Emulate the Zen Bouncer and say, “If somebody underperforms, I want you to be nice. Provide constructive feedback. Be nice. If he won’t take your feedback, be more stern. But be nice. If you can’t turn around his performance, one of the other leaders will help you, and you’ll both be nice.”

Should We Limit Power to Those in the Know? Democracy Through Epistocracy

voting-jfkIn this endless political season, I’m amazed by the number of people who have no idea what they are talking about. I am not referring to the individuals who disagree with me; I’m talking about those who have no grasp of basic facts. They are not dumb (although I wouldn’t necessarily call them smart, either). No, they are uninformed, without a core understanding of civics, U.S. history, or how the country operates. That’s why I’d like to propose an alternative form of democracy, epistocracy.

Epistocracy is similar to a typical democracy. Both are a representative form of government with limits on power, checks and balances, elected officials, and judicial oversight. The difference is that while democracies allow every citizen an equal right to vote, epistocracies dole out these rights based on knowledge, competence, and/or expertise.

I’m tired of ignorance held up as inspiration, where vicious anti-intellectualism is considered a positive trait, and where uninformed opinion is displayed as fact.―Philip Plait, author of Bad Astronomy

The intent of an epistocracy is not to limit power to a selected few, but to ensure that elected officials are chosen by well-informed, “qualified” citizens. As a result, we can avoid being subjected to the judgments of those who do not comprehend the issues. The challenge is in how we define “qualified.”

There are many ways to determine whether someone is properly informed to be eligible to vote. Some have suggested requiring people to pass the citizenship test when registering to vote. Others allow everyone to vote, but for your vote to count, you must correctly answer a few simple questions that pertain to the issues and candidates on the ballot.

If either of these options were to be chosen, the next challenge is deciding who will draft the qualifying questions. Both parties are likely to exert their influence in a way that supports their partisan leanings. Plus, the questions need to be written in a way that avoids preferential treatment based on education or socio-economic status.

If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.—Mark Twain

If enacting an epistocracy sounds absurd, you should consider that you are already utilizing some of its concepts in your workplace. As I’ve previously written, your organization is not a democracy, but you are “qualifying” the people who work there. Interviews, resumes, assessments, background screenings, reference checks, etc. are all intended to help you choose employees who possess the knowledge, competence, and expertise to work in your hallowed halls.

Many pundits and political candidates have suggested that government run more like a business. If this is the case, don’t we need a selection process to determine who can participate? Companies employ litmus tests to ensure their decision makers are informed. Why should participating in our government require any less effort?

Hillary Clinton: Three Leadership Lessons from the Democratic Presidential Candidate

hilary clintonAuthor’s Note: This article is not intended to be an endorsement of a candidate. The leadership tactics we will discuss are proven to be effective in persuading others and bolstering influence. How you choose to use these techniques is up to you.

Since today kicks off the beginning of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, it is a good time to discuss the leadership techniques utilized by the projected Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. When describing her methods, hard work, thorough understanding of the issues, and the desire to achieve a particular goal were my initial descriptors. Unfortunately, the only tips I could pull from this list were work harder, read more, and practice goal planning. These are all recommended, but after more thought, here are (another) three techniques we can learn from Clinton:

Fight Through Adversity

Whether it’s a result of her views, actions, or a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” Hillary Clinton has endured through almost thirty years of harsh, negative inquiry. If this sounds overstated, a Harvard University study showed that Clinton’s media coverage was more negative than that of any other candidate in 2015.

clinton media bias

Media Tenor, January 1-December 31, 2015. Tone figures based on positive and negative statements only. Neutral statements are excluded.

In 11 of the 12 months studied, Clinton’s “bad news” outpaced her “good news” by a wide margin—in the first half of 2015, negative statements outpaced the positive by three to one; the second half was three to two, negative over positive. This negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, contributing to the increase in her unfavorable poll ratings. And this was not based on conservative-leaning media bias. The study analyzed thousands of news statements by CBS, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, NBC, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

I don’t write this to defend Clinton or to disparage the media. My point is that it takes a tremendous amount of resilience to persevere through adversity… and she’s done it with an impressive track record of professional successes that will be topped off this week with the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Most of us will never be subjected to the virile attacks Clinton has experienced; this does not mean we can cower when confronted with hardship. A leader without resilience is a leader who is short-lived in their role. If you desire to do anything of substance, you will face setbacks. Resilience is how you recover. Here are a few ways you can enhance your ability to persevere:

  • Operate with a sense of purpose; sustain your key values and principles
  • Disregard sensationalism and hype; maintain perspective with logic and facts
  • Give yourself time to bounce back from the obstacle without wallowing in pity
  • Learn from your mistakes and move on
  • Remain focused on achieving the goal(s)

Don’t Minimize the Power of Predictability

Since reaching national notoriety in the 1990s, Clinton has presented herself in a consistent manner—a driven professional with high standards and even higher expectations. This ability to remain consistent may not sound exciting, but it is a foundational leadership attribute that followers actively seek.

Research in the Journal of Business Ethics found that self-consistency is a predecessor to authentic leadership and followers’ satisfaction with supervisor, organizational commitment, extra-effort, and team effectiveness. Another study in the journal Human Relations found that consistency results in a significant positive interaction with mission, adaptability, and involvement in predicting market-to-book ratios, sales growth, and overall performance. Google echoed these findings after conducting a widespread study of their hiring practices to determine what makes a successful leader.

When [Google] crunched the numbers, what they found out was remarkable for its overlooked common sense. Leaders must be predictable and consistent, because then employees grasp that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want. In other words, when managers are predictable, they remove a roadblock from employees’ path—themselves. On the flip side, if your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.— Walter Chen, CEO of iDoneThis

If your team can predict what you are going to do, they won’t waste energy trying to forecast your mood, prophesize your priorities, or change course with every erratic decision. They are freed up to do their job.

Express Your “Humanness”

When people describe Clinton, they tend to discuss her in professional terms—industrious, multitask-oriented, organized, goal-driven. While these seem like the qualities you would desire in a President (or any other leader), there is something that has not connected with many in the public arena.

David Brooks, a political commentator who leans sharply on the conservative side of the bipartisan spectrum, recently wrote,

Agree with her or not, she’s dedicated herself to public service. From advocate for children to senator, she has pursued her vocation tirelessly. It’s not the “what” that explains her unpopularity, it’s the “how” — the manner in which she has done it.

This “how” is the need to exhibit a multifaceted, well-rounded version of one’s self. Poll after poll shows that people do not feel like they know Clinton’s non-political side. They know she’s a mother and grandmother, but they see her more as a career-minded workaholic.

For whatever reason, people want to know what their leaders do for fun. A 2004 poll found that voters favored George W. Bush over John Kerry because they “would rather have a beer with Bush than Kerry.” Bill Clinton surged in the polls when he played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. And Barak Obama always garners positive press when he releases his annual NCAA Basketball Championship bracket.

According to research by psychologists Maurice Schweitzer and Adam Galinsky, leaders need to strike a balance between warmth and competence. They illustrate this theory with an accomplished psychiatrist who would employ one of three tactics when he first met a new patient: drop a pencil, tell a bad joke, or spill his coffee. His intent was to show his fallibility, i.e. warmth. Combined with his display of competence, including his office of diplomas, published books, and awards, the doctor was perceived as being more trustworthy and more proficient.

Likability counts, so if you want to be a more effective leader, show your team who are when you’re off the clock. Don’t downplay how hard you work, but throw in a few personal details. Talk about your weekend. Discuss your kids. Tell self-deprecating stories. Basically, display your vulnerability so you can be more relatable.

Hillary Clinton has run a solid campaign to reach this next stage in her career. Many factors have led to this moment, but her resilience and consistency have been key ingredients in her candidacy. As I wrote in my preceding article on Donald Trump’s leadership lessons, if you support her, these techniques are working. If you don’t, sharpen your skills to help defeat her. Either way, let’s hope this election cycle can become more competence and issue-based, and move away from the less substantive bouts that have become all too commonplace. It may not be as exciting, but is excitement really your measure of a world leader?

The Problems with Emotional Intelligence: It’s a Jungle [Book] Out There

Jungle-Book-by-Rudyard-Kipling-2Since the mid-1990s, the idea of emotional intelligence has been forced upon us as the quintessential trait for more effective leadership, enriched relationships, and generally happier lives. I don’t disagree with any of these findings and I remain a staunch supporter of growing your emotional intelligence. However, like anything, there are those who can take a positive feature and warp it to satisfy their own selfish agenda.

In 1894, English author Rudyard Kipling wrote about the perils of emotional intelligence in his classic, The Jungle Book, which you probably know it better as the 1967 Walt Disney Productions’ animated movie and (as of this weekend) the live action movie. The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli, an abandoned “man cub” who is raised by wolves with the help of Baloo the jovial bear and Bagheera the protective black panther.

jungle book shere khanUnlike the movies, Kipling’s book provides additional details on Shere Khan, the villainous Bengal tiger fixated on killing Mowgli. He makes many attempts on Mowgli’s life beginning with the man cub’s early upbringing. In a maneuver that involves a high degree of emotional intelligence, Khan infiltrates Mowgli’s adopted wolf pack. He promises the younger wolves generous rewards in exchange for tricking the leader while on a hunt. This results in the leader being expelled with Khan left to dismantle the group.

Khan does not coerce the younger wolves to aid his nefarious plot—he has the ability to understand himself and others and then channel this emotional energy in the desired direction. Khan is able to prey upon the naivety and self-indulgence of the less experienced members of the tribe. If this sounds familiar, consider what recent research has discovered on emotional intelligence.

A study led by University of Cambridge professor Jochen Menges found that when a leader gave an emotional, inspiring speech, the audience was less likely to consider the message and remembered less of the content, yet conversely, they claimed to recall more of the speech. This persuasive impact is attributed to the ability to strategically express emotions in a way where, according to the researchers, followers “stop thinking critically and just emote.”

According to Martin Kilduff from University College London, those who can control their emotions are more adept at disguising their true feelings. They purposefully shape their sentiments to express feelings that portray a more favorable impression of themselves.

The strategic disguise of one’s own emotions and the manipulation of others’ emotions for strategic ends are behaviors evident not only on Shakespeare’s stage but also in the offices and corridors where power and influence are traded.—Martin Kilduff

Stéphane Côté, a University of Toronto psychologist, measured Machiavellian tendencies as it relates to emotional intelligence. He and his team found that employees with higher emotional intelligence were significantly more likely to engage in harmful behaviors that demeaned and embarrassed others for personal gain.

As these studies show, the more people sharpen their emotional skills, the better they become at manipulating others. This is not meant to undermine the value of being emotionally intelligent, but it does show that each of us must remain hypervigilant against the Shere Khans in our organizations who are able to stroke our ego through charisma or empathy. We cannot confuse compassion for affection, nor can we mistake competence for integrity.

Don’t let your workplace become a jungle. Build the culture on collaboration and team achievement so others don’t perceive value in being a lone contributor. Emphasize ethical decision making over “winning.” Then the bare necessities of life will come to you.